By Linda Harmon
The Ojai Raptor Center, a local nonprofit organization that rescues and rehabilitates wildlife for re-release, is expanding and moving to the West Campus of Help of Ojai.
“It’s been a long process,” said Kim Stroud, director and founder of the center, who hopes to be on the Baldwin Road site by the end of the year. The West Campus was granted a county conditional use permit on Sept. 6 clearing the way for the center to sign a lease and relocate from its previous smaller location on Burnham Road.
“We are very pleased to be partnering with the Raptor Center,” said West Campus director Lisa Meeker, who calls the center an incredible resource.
Stroud founded the center in 2000 and spent the previous eight years as a board member and co-founder of Wildlife Care of Ventura County. It was a call from Supervisor Steve Bennett that led to talks with Meeker.
“He has been a supporter for a long time,” said Stroud, adding Bennett and Meeker were instrumental in helping her attain the larger site, which will allow her organization to provide more services to more birds. “Their program is great,” said Becky Beckett, a Nordhoff science teacher who has used the center outreach program in her curriculum the last three years. “It’s one thing to tell kids something and another to show them real animals and what kind of things they can do individually to protect them.”
Beckett said Stroud brought in a recovering raptor to explain second-hand poisoning, and her class was later able to recognize that condition in a barn owl found in the adjacent Besant Meadow. “The gophers were eating rat poison set out on the property and the barn owl ate one of the poisoned gophers,” said Beckett. “Another live barn owl was circling above their heads to protect its dead mate.” Beckett said they contacted the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy and the poison was removed.
Stroud travels to more than 100 community events each year, setting up a raptor booth with materials and non-releasable raptors. She visits schools like Beckett’s, and nature centers with outreach programs, educating the public about environmental interconnectedness and the raptors’ place in the ongoing circle of life. They use the “ambassadors,” as she describes them, to explain behaviors, characteristics and essential roles each raptor plays in its habitat.
The center will soon be housed in the old swine gestation building, and use approximately four acres of surrounding area.
“We have a memorandum of understanding to operate through the California State Department of Fish and Game and through the U.S. Federal Fish and Wildlife Department,” said Stroud who must report annually to both agencies. “We have seven permits including those that allow us to show birds for educational programs and to band and track the birds.”
Stroud said it’s a lot of paperwork and data entry with 18 fields on one data sheet, but the increasing paperwork does allow the center to get assistance with bird testing and treatment.
“Tests for avian flu and metal toxicity are expensive,” said Stroud. “Now the National Center for Disease Control in Atlanta is even getting interested in our birds, and the state is helping fund the tests.”
The center staff includes a seven-member board and 70 volunteers, rescuing birds from Santa Barbara, Los Angeles and Ventura counties. Stroud’s husband, David, was recently added as the agency’s first paid staff member.
“He’s the one on call to transport the birds, along with feeding, watering, medicating and whatever else is necessary for their care,” said Stroud, who has kept her full-time job with Patagonia in Ventura. Stroud said Patagonia encourages their employees to get involved with environmental causes and has been very flexible allowing her time to do outreach programs.
Stroud says the center depends on its volunteers to keep it running, and donations and grants allow it to expand. Stroud recently received a $25,000 grant from an anonymous donor which is half of the estimated $50,000 center renovation price tag. Stroud said they have also just applied for a $40,000 grant from Southern California Edison after receiving smaller grants in the past.
The center is holding a benefit concert in Libbey Bowl “For The Birds III” on Oct. 7 featuring Jackson Browne and the local group “The Household Gods.”
Stroud invites anyone interested in volunteering to join them at the new Raptor Center location Sept. 29 8 a.m. to noon and bring water, hats and sunscreen. She especially needs welders, construction-oriented individuals and strong people to sink aviary pipes.
For more information call 649-6884 or go online at OjaiRaptorCenter.org.